Last weekend, the second annual Midwest Soul Vegfest took place at Swope Park, featuring speakers including doctors, nutritionists and vegans, and more than 50 vendors all promoting health, wellness and plant-based eating.

Gigi Jones, local vegan and owner of Gigi’s Vegan + Wellness Café created the festival to empower Kansas Citians to take better care of themselves and learn about the importance of incorporating raw foods like veggies, leafy greens and sprouts into everyday meals.

Vegans exclude eating and using all meat and animal products, this includes wearing leather, wool or using any soaps and products made with animal fat.

In 2015, Jones was diagnosed with colon cancer, which was a shock to her because she thought she was living a healthy lifestyle. She credits her vegan, plant-based lifestyle, which she began after her diagnosis, for ridding her body of colon cancer.

“Food is medicine. I use food to heal my body,” Jones said. “When you look at the Brown and Black community facing the epidemic of obesity, cancer and heart disease, I believe it’s stemmed through the lack of education and the lack of support.”

The festival included a talk with renowned fitness expert, social justice activist, filmmaker and longtime vegan John Lewis (AKA Badass Vegan) and Washington, D.C.-based Dr. Milton Mills, who was featured in the Netflix documentary “What the Health.” The festival also featured Brenda Sanders, vegan food justice activist and executive director of Afro-Vegan Society, a nonprofit organization that provides support and resources for those transitioning to vegan living.

Vendors included Blissful Soul Kitchen, Bee(N) Natural, Nature Made Me, Mattie’s Foods and Essential Creationz.

At the festival, Grandview, Blue Springs and Kansas City mayors presented Jones with proclamations honoring Midwest Soul Vegfest for addressing healthy eating in the metro.

Grandview Mayor Leonard Jones announced Oct. 9 as Midwest Soul Vegfest Day in the city and Blue Springs Mayor Carson Ross announced Aug. 9 as Midwest Soul Vegfest Day, encouraging their communities to make healthy food choices.

“This festival is looking at how we can help build healthy lifestyles and healthy eating, particularly in the Black community in the urban core of Kansas City,” Mayor Quinton Lucas said.

Councilwoman Ryana Parks-Shaw said she was vegan for nine years after she was diagnosed with gestational diabetes.

“You can heal those chronic diseases with proper nutrition,” Parks-Shaw said. “Educate yourself for the rest of your life and extend your life expectancy.”

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